Communications Tips for Reopening After the Pandemic
As attractions reopen all over the world, what we say and how we say it are more important than ever. “What’s different about this crisis is that it changes every single day,” says Debbie Evans, a public relations strategist with Evans Marketing Partners. “Right now, as we prepare to open, or as we are reopening, we really have the chance to prevent our own crisis by crafting our messaging and being strategic about the way we communicate.”
Having a message to share with guests as they look to be entertained—along with employees as they return to work—needs to be unified and adaptable to change. “What you’re saying right now will change and what you’re saying next week will undoubtedly change,” says Heather Keroes, Vice President of Curley & Pynn Public Relations. “There isn’t a one size fits all approach.”
Here are their tips for communicating to guests and staff during reopening:
Draft Consistent Plans—Plural
A successful reopening should include two communications plans: one for external communications targeting guests and a second aimed at communicating with employees.
While plans can change, having a unified message should not. The same key message should align with a communications plan that targets guests and a returning workforce.
“Certainly there are things we need to communicate with our team members that we don’t need to communicate with our guests,” says Evans. Arming employees with updated information, policy changes, and new operating procedures will be key to positive interactions with guests.
“Many will agree, your employees are your most important audience of all,” says Keroes. “They are your daily brand ambassadors.”
Utilize Your Leaders
At the heart of a message should be a statement that informs both employees and guests that their safety and well-being are paramount to an attraction owner. For the message to resonate (and be deemed effective), it should be delivered from the top. When an executive leader sets the tone, it sends a clear signal that all should follow.
Connect With Guests Before They Return
An effective plan connects with visitors before they even visit. That includes being transparent on an attraction’s web site with photos or creating a video that illustrates the changes taking place. The same elements can be shared on social media.
A reopening message should include:
- Giving audiences something to look forward to and become excited about.
- Letting guests know you care for their well-being.
- Building confidence and trust in you reopening plan (proper sanitation, personal safety)
- Setting expectations, so there are no unwelcomed surprises upon arrival and entry.
Surprises that may be perceived as negative could include: mandates requiring guests to wear face masks; a decreased ride capacity that promotes social distancing; sanitation crews in uniform cleaning in public spaces and in restrooms as facilities remain open for use; and the need to setup a cashless payment app on a smart phone to reduce the physical touch associated with using cash.
“Things are going to look different. We want to make sure those changes enhance the guest experience and gives them confidence in the safety of what we are providing for them,” says Evans.
Prioritize Transparency with Frontline Staff
Employees on the frontline can make or break a visit, and thus, form a guest’s opinion of an attraction’s reopening. In the days following reopening, word-of-mouth will be important. Keroes believes talking to employees honestly can help curb any misinformation before it can spread. She recommends everyone from food and beverage managers to merchandise coordinators use the three C’s.
“You need to be consistent, you need to be clear, and you need to be compassionate,” she says of the three C’s. “Share the facts and put yourself in your employees shoes.”
Since operations will be different than before the coronavirus pandemic, sharing an attraction’s new guidelines and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help assure an attraction is doing everything they can to promote safety.
Show How You Care
In addition, Evans says guests want to see that operators are taking their employees care and safety seriously.
“Now more than ever, our team members are part of our story,” Evans says. Showing gratitude and displaying appreciation towards employees during reopening is important. Small displays of appreciation can include passing out complementary donuts to employees upon their arrival at work, offering free soda at lunch, or creating an employee recognition program to showcase those team members who are upholding new standards. This tactic can also serve as an example to other team members of exemplary behavior.
Extend the Message
Many times, communications experts advise being concise when crafting a message. Keroes believes now is the time to expand a message to show exactly what precautions and provisions are in place for a safe and healthy visit. This can come in the form of a detailed press release sent to the media, in a blog post, on social media, or all three.
“Unless you are out there sharing that information proactively with your guests, they’re not going to get that sense for how welcoming you are or how seriously you take their safety and their health,” Keroes says.